Frail Sister

Karen Green

Roxane Gay on Goodreads: What a beautiful, strange book—found objects and fictional prose brought together to tell the real and imagined story of Constance Gale, through letters to her sister, letters from young men at war. From the beginning to the end of the book, we bear witness to a life, too-short but fully-lived. This is simply fascinating and gorgeously written, gorgeously assembled.

 

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A fictional archive of altered photos, letters, collages and drawings, Frail Sister is a rescued history of a missing woman’s life. As a child, Constance Gale is put to work with her sister, performing as musical prodigies during the Great Depression. As a teenager, she escapes the confines of her impoverished life by joining the U.S.O. and touring a ravaged Italy during World War II. Men—some kind, some nefarious, some an ineluctable cocktail—write to Constance, smitten by her stage persona. Letters to and from Constance expose not only the quotidian reality of war but also the ubiquitous brutality it throws into relief. After the war, she returns to an unsparing life in New York City in which the violence persists and her ghosts multiply.

Artist and writer Karen Green’s second book originated in her search for a woman who had vanished: her Aunt Constance whom Green knew only from a few family photos and keepsakes. Finding almost no trace of her aunt, Green instead invents, appropriates and alters artifacts. Then she constructs an elliptical, arresting arrangement of these fragments to pursue a new inquiry: what becomes of a woman whose talent, ambition, and appetite defy what the world expects of her? How does she disappear?

In this exquisitely woven, epistolary and visual fiction, Green imagines for her aunt a childhood in which she is bold, reckless, perspicacious, mischievous; an adolescence ripe with desire and scarred by violation and loss; and an adulthood in which she strives to sing above the din. Nimble, unnerving and darkly funny, Frail Sister examines the thin membrane between resiliency and fragility, the love of family and its betrayals, bringing a forgotten life into focus.

KAREN GREEN is an artist and writer whose inventive, hybrid image-text works narrate the intimate spaces of human experience. Her first book Bough Down earned numerous accolades and a devoted readership. She lives in Northern California and New York City.